A collapsed lung or pneumothorax occurs if there is accumulation of air in the area amidst the lungs and the rib cage. This space is called as the pleural space. There is pressure placed on the lung that it could not normally expand. A collapse lung typically occurs in only one side at a time.
Types of collapsed lung
This type of collapsed lung occurs due to a traumatic injury which allows air from the outside to enter the space. This can occur with injuries such as gunshot or stab wounds as well as broken ribs. In some cases, it can occur after chest surgery.
This form develops for no evident reason. The air sac on the lung surface known as bulla ruptures. The bulla might break while engaging in strenuous exercise or during certain activities such as scuba diving or hiking or flying at high altitudes. Respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are also at risk.
What are the indications of a collapsed lung?
If an individual has a collapsed lung, the usual indications include:
- Piercing chest pain that is aggravated during deep breathing
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Dry cough
In severe cases, fatigue, rapid heart rate and bluish tinge to the skin and lips are present. The severity of the symptoms is based on the amount of air that entered the pleural space. In severe cases, which is called tension pneumothorax, the air that entered the space could not escape and more air continues to enter during each breath, resulting to symptoms that rapidly worsen.
Once an X-ray of the lung is taken to confirm a diagnosis, the appropriate treatment is started which is based on the severity of the condition. For minor cases, they heal in just a few days. The gap in which the air entered the pleural space eventually heals and the body absorbs the extra air. In some cases, additional oxygen might be required.
For major injuries, a chest drain is usually inserted into the pleural space to release the air. This drain is kept in place for a few days up to weeks depending on the healing time of the injury. In repeated cases, a procedure called as pleurodesis might be done which utilizes a special chemical that allows 2 layers of the lung lining to adhere together.
More Information / Disclaimer
The information posted on this page on a collapsed lung is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage breathing conditions including a collapsed lung by taking a standard first aid course with Vancouver First Aid.